The Underrated: I, Lucifer
I was going to hold off reviewing this book for a while. However, Mrs. Jarv in a wonderfully useless move that got me out of watching SATC2 managed to lose my copy (4th one I’ve bought now), so in sheer celebration I’m going to write this from memory. I know this book extremely well, so have no qualms about taking a gamble and writing it without it sitting in front of me.
I, Lucifer is Glenn Duncan (revoltingly talented bastard) at his finest. The story goes, and I’m not sure how true it is, that he was terminally blocked while writing Weathercock. He was miles behind schedule and the publishing house got on his back about it- so to stall them he wrote I, Lucifer in 2 weeks. 2 Weeks! Bastard. On one hand, I’d like that to be true (and I, Lucifer destroys Weathercock), but on the other, well, it’s just not fair.
It’s the end of days. God (described as looking exactly like a grumpy old man) has decided that he’s going to wrap the whole shebang up. However, given that the end really is nigh, he’s going to give Lucifer one final chance, one last and completely unearned shot at redemption. All Lucifer has to do is inhabit the body of suicidal Declan Gunn and not commit a mortal sin. Lucifer, however, doesn’t want anything to do with this, but would quite like a crack in the corporeal realm for a bit so agrees to take Gunn’s body for 1 month. I, Lucifer is the account of that month.
I, Lucifer is narrated by Satan himself and uses this simple story to tell his side of things. The book has a couple of pages of plot, then a couple of pages of reminiscing about various subjects (Eden, The Temptation, the crucifixion, witch trials, the Final Solution etc) that link together seamlessly. Lucifer’s viewpoint (while completely unreliable) is also completely plausible, and far more intelligent than it’s pretending to be. Take the temptation for example- Lucifer complains bitterly that the official account makes him look “myopic” and so resolves to tell what actually happened. He brilliantly dismisses the Biblical version (when disregarding the third temptation, all the kingdoms of earth, he says that he may as well “have offered the entire pokemon collection” to Jesus) and instead counters with what Christ’s real weakness was: doubt. As a result, instead of offering bread etc, he simply shows Jesus a summary of the next 2000 years and asks him if it will be worth it? Jesus wavers, but God is having none of this so breaks it up, leaving Jesus to conclude with” I’m going through with it, so just fuck off will you”. I find Satan’s account of the temptation damned convincing- why would Satan offer Jesus all the Kingdoms of Earth? it doesn’t make sense at all. However, I can see Jesus occasionally wondering if this being nailed to a cross business might not hurt a wee bit and therefore might not be worth it for a species as hell-bent on self-destruction as humanity.
Furthermore, these interludes actually allow a fair bit of philosophy on the nature of evil to slip through- he finishes his account of the crucifixion with a description of a lynch mob at a paedophile’s house and concludes with “look into their eyes and that’s where you’ll find me”.
As fun as Lucifer’s metaphysical ramblings are, the novel would collapse if his Earthly time wasn’t every bit as interesting. Given that he spends it doing a frightening amount of booze, drugs and hookers then it’s no surprise that it’s an excellent read. On his first day in Gunn’s body, Lucifer doesn’t actually manage to make it out of the house, due to being utterly mugged by perception, and quite unable to resist wanking. All day. Hilarious stuff. He moves on to the movie biz (through using Satanic powers and connections) and behaves in his own words “like a Sunderland lottery winner in Harrods”.
As already mentioned, Lucifer narrates the novel, and this is no mean trick. The Satan persona is charming, erudite and witty. He comes across as sincere and irreverent and laces his narrative with enough comic asides to keep even the most sceptical reader happy- the description of the London Underground getting God down is an absolute gem of comic writing. The supporting characters (although this is obviously Satan’s show) are all convincingly drawn, particularly Penelope, and by using Satan as narrator, Duncan can cheat and give us insights into what they’re thinking that an ordinary narrator could not give.
Then there’s the writing. I, Lucifer is stylistically brilliant. An early description of New York in summer is breathtakingly good- being both concise and evocative, and the myriad descriptions of London always manage to transport me to the exact area he’s talking about. It’s a superb ventriloquism act, and that Duncan manages to make Satan so likable is no small feat.
Unfortunately, Channel 4 have seen fit to have a stab at adapting this to the big screen. It was initially to star Ewen McGregor, who has thankfully dropped out, and then Daniel Craig (yikes! dreadful) and this casting makes me think that those filming it are going to fuck it up. The other reason that I think they’ll fuck it up, is that it is unfilmable, but if they insist on going through with it, then I suggest Purefoy for the title role. The latest update has I, Lucifer being released in 2011, and I’m holding out no hope for it at all.
Overall, I recommend this book. I’ve now bought 4 copies of it due to various people borrowing and not returning it, and am shortly to purchase copy number 5. It’s a book that I come back to every so often and probably my favourite novel of the 21st Century. Find it, read it and love it- I, Lucifer is simply magnificent.
Until next time,